Dorset’s glorious landscape has provided writers with inspiration for centuries. Born and bred in Dorset, celebrated Victorian writer Thomas Hardy used his home county as the backdrop for his novels and poetry, and visitors to both Summer Lodge Country Hotel and Restaurant and The Acorn Inn are within easy reach of the Writers Gallery at the Dorset County Museum, as well as Hardy Cottage. But it’s not just Hardy who called this corner of the world home, with many other eminent writers using Dorset as the setting for their work. Here, we select some of the best Dorset literature to read ahead of your next trip.
Persuasion: Jane Austin
Set in the Dorset town of Lyme Regis, Persuasion is Jane Austen’s final novel, published posthumously in 1817. The author herself had visited the town on two occasions and clearly, it left a lasting impression on her. In the early 19th century, Lyme Regis was considered a fashionable summer resort. Details of Austen’s visit in 1803 and 1804 are provided in her letters, which mention some of the activities she enjoyed there, such taking a stroll on the Cobb and attending a ball at the Assembly Rooms. It’s likely that these trips provided inspiration for the plot of Persuasion, which centres on protagonist Anne Elliot. Aged 19, Anne falls in love with Captain Frederick Wentworth, but is persuaded not to marry him by her family on account of his lack of financial means and status. Years later, the couple meet again and find themselves on holiday in Lyme Regis with a group of family and friends. A story of love lost and found, the action centres around the town’s fashionable Cobb and offers a fascinating insight into life in Regency society.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman: John Fowles
Also set in Lyme Regis (though written well over 100 years later), John Fowles’ classic novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman was inspired by the tradition of the Victorian novel. The plot centres on the female character of Sarah Woodruff, a mysterious figure in Lyme Regis who is rumoured to have been deserted by her French naval officer lover and is, consequently, shunned from society. Also made into a film starring Meryl Streep, the lasting image from this novel is of a woman standing alone on the Cobb, looking out onto the stormy sea.
Famous Five: Enid Blyton
A regular visitor to Dorset, Enid Blyton started coming to the county in the 1940s and brought her family here on holiday here for over 20 years. Her fondness for and knowledge of Dorset is evident in her best-selling ‘Famous Five’ stories. Local landmark Corfe Castle is thought to be ‘Kirrin Castle’ in the series, whilst Lulworth Cove is believed to serve as the location for ‘The Rubadub Mystery’ book and Blyton’s ‘Whispering Island,’ is likely based on Brownsea Island.
Love Among the Chickens: P.G. Wodehouse
Inspired by a holiday P.G. Wodehouse spent in Dorset, this 1906 novel features the recurring character of Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, from Wodehouse’s short stories. Narrated by Ukridge’s friend Jeremy Garnet, the plot begins when Ukridge forcefully invites Garnet to visit his chicken farm in Dorset, the latest in Ukridge’s get-rich-quick schemes. With romantic intrigue and plenty of comical mishaps, this light-hearted novel is the perfect Dorset holiday read.
Moonfleet: J. Meade Falkner
An enthralling adventure story of Dorset smugglers, Moonfleet is a much-loved children’s book written by British novelist J. Meade Falkner at the end of the 19th century. Using the Dorset coastline and cliffs as its backdrop, the story centres on the fictional town of Moonfleet, which is thought to have been inspired by the village of East Fleet in Dorset, located close to Chesil beach. Today, visitors to the village can admire the memorial to J. Meade Falkner in the village church as well as another memorial for a local 17th century family named Mohun, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the name of the pub in Moontfleet, the Monhune Arms, as well as the character of Colonel John ‘Blackbeard’ Mohune.
On Chesil Beach: Ian McEwan
This 2007 Booker Prize nominated short novel centres on a newlywed couple in the 1960s on their honeymoon near Dorset’s famous Chesil Beach. Grappling with their expectations regarding their first night together and their marriage in general, the pivotal scene of the novel takes place on the long shingle spit beach. One of the best-known books in modern Dorset literature, the story is a powerful exploration of the consequences of words unsaid and opportunities not taken.